[Writer's Choice] South Korea's Women Struggling to Get Hired: Part 1

Jay Yim, Feb. 1, 2019, 5:27 p.m.

A 23-year-old woman is sitting face to face with the interviewer. He wasn't impressed -- but his reaction had nothing to do with her resume.

"Women aren't fit to work in sales," he told her. "You're a woman, why would you pursue a job in this industry?"

The woman -- who requested anonymity because she fears career repercussions -- was shocked, but not that surprised. During a group interview with a different company in South Korea, she was asked about her plans for marriage and children. However, the two male applicants were only asked questions relating to the job, she told CNN.

"I felt humiliated (and) betrayed, like I got cut by shards of the glass ceiling," she said.

College student Kim So Jung also knows this feeling, and she knows it all to well. She said that during an interview for a part-time clerical job, the manager (doing the hiring) told her "girls look much better without their glasses on." Then he asked her if she was dating anyone, and said she should wear more makeup so she can look "professional."

When Kim asked the manager what that had to do with the job, he told her that she was too "outspoken." She ended up walking out of the interview.

As South Korea is beginning to push back against its established patriarchal culture, more women in the country are voicing their experience of discrimination in their job hunting and their careers. Even as the legal system struggles to catch up and hold companies accountable, women are speaking out.

South Korea has one of the thickest glass ceilings in the world.

In 2018, the country was ranked 30 out of 36 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) nations for women's employment, even though it has the highest tertiary education rate of the group for women aged 25 to 34. South Korea ranked 115 out of 149 countries in the World Economic Forum's most recent report on the global gender gap, with major gaps in terms of equality of wage and income earned for women.

In South Korea, politics is particularly unequal. According to the World Bank, women hold just 17 percent of the seats in the country's parliament.

President Moon Jae In said during his New Year's press conference that the gender gap is a "shameful reality" and promised to address it.

Park Kwi Cheon, a labor law professor at Ewha Law School in Seoul, said "because South Korean women have a very low employment rate despite having high education levels, one can see that the hiring discrimination is still continuing in many ways."

Park pointed to a number of recent legal cases involving South Korean companies to use as evidence to address the issue being "prevalent in our society."

Those cases have exposed shocking levels of discrimination within some of South Korea's biggest businesses.

Three of the largest South Korean banks -- KB Kookmin Bank, KEB Hana Bank and Shinhan Bank -- were exposed to have gotten rid of female applicants and manipulated the passing scores in order to exclude female job candidates and favor men. Prosecuters said that at Shinhan, the ratio of successful male to female candidates in 2016 was 3:1.

When asked by CNN, all three banks refused to comment on the cases.

There was another case which involved the CEO of the Korea Gas Safety Corporation (KGS), Park Ki Dong, was convicted of instructing managers to manipulate and change the scores of 31 applicants, while eight women with passing scores were eliminated and replaced with men who scored lower in 2015 and 2016.

"Park held a view that in the case of women, their competencies in the field work are significantly lower than those of men, and that they're not suitable to be put into various types of work," the Supreme Court said.

A representative for KGS said that the company had reached out to the eight women who were wrongfully eliminated and hired three of them who continued to express a desire to join the company. KGS added that all managers involved in the discriminatory hiring had been dismissed.

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